Criminally blonde: Red, white, and dead

a/Arts & Entertainment by

Blondes around the world, natural and bleached alike, are attacking strangers for no reason. The cause is unknown, but it only affects women.  Hazel Hayes, a brunette Toronto native, witnesses the first attack in New York City, right after she finds out she’s pregnant from an affair with her married professor. Thus goes the premise of The Blondes by Emily Schultz.

As the mass hysteria known as the Blonde Fury ensues, Hazel writes a PhD thesis in ‘Aesthetology,’ the study of looking. More specifically, she writes an essay on “what women look like, and what we think they look like.” The story interweaves a social commentary on vanity and our ideals of female beauty, but as Hazel strives to dismantle blonde stereotypes and false preconceived notions about women, it’s difficult to say whether the book will attract blonde readers or alienate them.

With some derisive undertones, Hazel is articulate and conversational, speaking to her unborn child to push away the loneliness of being isolated in a cottage in the woods during a relentless winter—all in an attempt to avoid an ill-researched virus linked to hair colour. As she talks to her kicking bundle of joy, she shows herself to possess an incredible memory, recalling with great accuracy the places she has been, the people she has met, and the conversations she has carried with them. Her first encounter with the professor reads as if it happened yesterday. The reader can conjure vivid images from her accounts, increasing the believability of the story, but at the expense of questioning Hazel’s mental capabilities, which exceed that of an average human being.

She speaks to her unborn child directly, referring to her baby in the second person. This gives the illusion that she is speaking to the reader, when she’s actually having a one-sided conversation with her swollen abdomen. Because the narrator is 25 years old, this gives the impression of being talked down to by someone as old as your sister, who thinks you’re no bigger than a football. The narrative style is personal, but it’s too close for comfort.

Hazel is an observer, exhibiting minimal reactions compared to other characters in the book when the pandemic occurs. She is no superhero, but then again, you can’t ask too much from a woman filled with pregnancy angst.

The premise of the book is original enough, externalizing the character’s competitive nature in subtle but knifing ways—the brewing of a poison these women might keep hidden inside. However, The Blondes is born from a mix of admiration and fear of beautiful people, bundled together with a deep rage at their heightened social status and privileges.

The book is well written for avid readers of women’s literature, but it doesn’t pick up until page 40, when a teenage Thai school girl dies from the first recorded blonde attack. If the initial pacing of the novel can be overlooked, Emily Schultz’ story can be decent fare, following Hazel’s voice and her seamless flashbacks.  While Hazel’s often sardonic inner dialogue with her unborn child is arguably strange but understandable, what can be certain from this book by an author who was a finalist of the 2010 Trillium Book Award is the following: don’t mess with blondes.